Carissa is a marine mammal biologist, conservationist, and advocate for the ocean living on Oahu, Hawaii. By participating in ocean research, education, politics, and sustainability, she tries to inform the public about the threats facing the ocean. In addition to her day job rescuing endangered species, she runs a sustainability blog called The Conservationist Collective that teaches readers how to reduce their daily waste through small choices and changes.
I’m a marine biologist and conservationist based in Hawaii who has always had a special place in my heart for whales. Every day I work towards conserving the ocean and its inhabitants through different types of advocacy initiatives like animal rescues, nonprofit collaborations, political activism, consumer choice, sustainability, and cetacean research.
While I am a strong advocate against whale captivity, I grew up going to SeaWorld and whale watching cruises which first sparked my love for whales at such a young age. I grew up traveling and snorkeling with my dad, which made me love the ocean even more. When I was 16, I watched The Cove for my AP English class – a powerful documentary showing behind the scenes footage from the dolphin drive in Taiji, Japan. I already loved whales, but at this point I decided I wanted to work to protect them for my career.
This is such a challenging question. As you advance in the college coursework of marine biology, you begin to learn about all the complicated and severe threats facing the ocean right now, and how much we depend upon this fragile ecosystem. Whether its plastic pollution, overfishing, species removal, climate change – all of the issues contribute. I think the biggest issue facing the ocean today is ignorance. The general public is unaware of what is happening in our oceans, exactly why it matters, how they can help, and how connected we are to the ocean.
I am strongly against exploiting whales as a commodity for profit. I speak up loudly and confidently against captivity, and I believe we are finally shifting away from an industry built on this ideology. But this shift comes with a new set of challenges including sustainable wildlife interactions, whale watching regulations, and public awareness. In my daily life I choose not to eat fish, because I do not support an industry that contributes to bycatch, derelict fishing gear pollution, and entanglement hazards. I live a nearly zero waste lifestyle because I’ve seen first hand through cetacean necropsies the cause of ingestion. I minimize plastic to minimize the pollutant accumulation in our ocean, which ends up in whale tissues and stomachs and causes adverse effects. Finally, I share the information I learn as widely as I can so that others can feel motivated to learn and change their behaviors.
The best advice I can give is if you care about these animals, think about the ways you live your life that can hurt them. If we all start with self awareness, we can set an example for others to grow as well. There is no “perfect,” in ocean conservation, but trying your best to learn about the threats that face whales, and how humans play a part in them, can make a huge difference. Whether we want to admit it, each human has an impact and we can choose how we want to impact the world we live in.